Practical participation in school
Participation is certainly something we do. It is a process, not a procedure – something to work towards rather than replicating an ideal model.
Using participatory techniques does not necessarily mean that the process is participatory. It is not enough to have children fill out a survey or institute a school council. Commensurate to their age, they should be part of deciding what issue affects them most. Then following dialogue, if a survey is agreed to be the best tool to find the information they want, they have a role in the implementation of that assessment. The process then moves to their being involved in the analysis of the feedback, and in deciding what actions are going to be taken after that.
Honesty, mutual trust and respect are essential for effective participation.
Children and young people need to be told what has happened as a result of their participation. Without prompt feedback, and real evidence of change rather than statements of policy or intention, they are less likely to participate in the future.
Children and young people's contributions must be taken seriously, treating each child as an individual and avoiding assumptions or stereotypes. It requires honesty about how children's contributions are going to be used and exactly how much power and influence they can really have. Children and young people must feel free to say what they really think, without the possibility of negative consequences.
Adults involved in the participation process should normally act as facilitators and avoid dominating proceedings or manipulating them towards particular outcomes.
We should be:
- giving priority to building respectful relationships that enable children and young people to express their views on an ongoing basis and be confident that they will be taken seriously
- questioning the way decisions are made in school – and not accepting processes just because they have always been done this way
- considering our own attitudes, skills, and use of power, and be prepared to grow and change. Be prepared for children and young people to question and challenge
- clear what the deal is. If some things have already been decided then say so. If there are limits to how much influence children and young people can have.
- avoiding partial judgments on individuals or discriminating between particular groups of children or young people. Equally, discriminatory views held by children and young people themselves should be challenged within an ethos of mutual respect.
Authentic participation has the potential to develop children and young people's sense of their own rights and responsibilities as citizens, helping to counter antisocial behaviour and promote a commitment to society and its institutions. Successful participation can also benefit communities, promoting social cohesion and a more positive view of children and young people.
Voting in elections is the rule of democracy. Ongoing and deepening participation is the heart and soul of democracy.
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